Meghan, Harry and diversity within the media industry

Posted 1 October 2018

Since the age of 13, Mahalia Changlee from London has wanted to be a journalist; so when she signed up to our Transforming Hidden Talent mentoring programme, which pairs young people who want to start a career in the industry with media professionals, we knew CNN journalist Bharati Naik would be the perfect match. When Bharati invited Mahalia to help her cover the run up to this year’s Royal Wedding, she seized the chance. Here she shares her experience and why it’s made her even more adamant in her belief that the media industry needs to address its lack of diversity.

It’s the morning of Thursday 17 May 2018.

I walk to my local underground station, jump on the Victoria line and make my way to Waterloo. When I arrive, I have to navigate the process of buying the right ticket, for the correct train, at the right time to take me to Windsor and Eton Riverside. Ordinarily this would be an easy feat, but with my anxiety and excitement creeping up, it could have gone awry pretty quickly. As I sit on the train I watch local people get off and news crews in shirts and sunglasses take their place. You see, little ole’ Mahalia is going to Windsor to assist CNN with the coverage of the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

It all started two weeks earlier when my Transforming Hidden Talent mentor Bharati Naik, a journalist at CNN, asked if I could get down to Windsor for this date. Without thinking I immediately said yes and then spent the next week clearing my calendar. I tried not to anticipate what would transpire, mostly to prevent my preconceptions getting in the way of my experience. As you can probably tell, I was extremely excited.

Transforming Hidden Talent

I applied for Media Trust’s Transforming Hidden Talent programme as from the age of 13 I’ve wanted to be a journalist, to write for national publications and help shape the narrative of global affairs. Since then my interests have broadened to include social issues, identity politics and music and I’ve always wanted to engage my peers in this dialogue too. So, the idea of covering a wedding that saw a mixed-race, African American divorcee, marry into what has historically been a pillar of colonialism was an event that I made sure I wasn’t going to miss.


Mahalia in Windsor.

In the run up to the royal wedding Windsor felt like a city. It had people from across the world lining its streets. The whole town fed into this undeniable sense of elation that spread beyond personal problems and politics. This did not solve infrastructural problems like homelessness that many news outlets reported on. But, the transformation of Windsor into a temporary metropole certainly made them less noticeable.

Every store-front and house had their own way of showing their excitement for the royal couple. Burgers were named in their honour, cupcakes of their faces were being sold and British flags graced the streets. The sun was out, a wedding was approaching and spirits were high.

My trip to Windsor was the fourth official work experience meeting that I had with my mentor Bharati

Working with CNN

My trip to Windsor was the fourth official work experience meeting that I had with my mentor Bharati. Bharati is a brilliant Planner and Producer at CNN. Her role involves, amongst other things, researching, sourcing, booking and assisting guests for interviews across the world.

My responsibilities on the 17 and 18 of May involved arranging and assisting guests that Bharati and her team had booked for live interviews on Hala Gorani Tonight. They ranged from historians, to wedding photographers, bakers to social commentators, young leaders to wedding guests. I was able to meet with some truly inspirational people who had come to share their stories with CNN. It was a fantastic experience.

presenter interviews guest with Windsor in the background

A behind the scenes look at filming.

Helping the planning team at the pop-up studios in Windsor made Bharati’s job clearer in my mind. Spatially each station was made more distinct, each cluster of tents had a different role. This helped me map out my role within this mechanism and I quickly rose to the challenge.

However, I can’t write about the wedding of an African American woman into the British royal family without reflecting on my experience as a black woman covering such an event

However, I can’t write about the wedding of an African American woman into the British royal family without reflecting on my experience as a black woman covering such an event. Myself and my mentor Bharati were two of a handful of people of colour in the newsroom. Most of the workers of colour I saw had jobs in security and were not curating the narrative of the news stories. I attended UCL for my undergraduate degree and am used to being one of the only brown faces in a crowd. However, it was strange being a black woman in this environment when the topic of discussion is the integration and liberalisation of one of the oldest colonial establishments, alongside the notion of presenting the triumphs of multiculturalism.  The lack of diversity in our newsrooms is still a huge issue that needs addressing and working within the industry over those two days made it all the more pertinent.

National news outlets aren’t always able to engage with young people and their workforce often isn’t diverse enough to reflect their worlds and experience. This is one of the reasons I am starting my own media platform called CounterPolitics which will launch in November. CounterPolitics is a media platform and service business led by people of colour that help young people understand parliamentary and identity politics and how to make social change. Our content will help young people think crucially about the context of knowledge they receive and this will occur through the lens of youth culture.

We are still waiting for a revolution in our newsrooms, but in the same breath people like me are creating our own spaces to do so.

Having a newsroom that more accurately reflects the society we live in today can only be a positive thing.

Diversity in the newsroom is key

I urge more media companies to follow CNN’s lead and encourage their staff to sign up to mentor young people from diverse backgrounds. More often than not diverse talent is unable to access these spaces and once through the door suffer alienation. There is an abundance of diverse talent wanting to enter the media industry but without the support and connections to do so. The Hidden Talent Mentoring programme has allowed me to gain an insight into a new working culture and provided the opportunity to build a network in an industry where prior I had none. Plus, having a newsroom that more accurately reflects the society we live in today can only be a positive thing.

On the 17 and 18 of May I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cover the royal wedding with CNN International. I left with more questions than answers, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

Learning the process of news development and covering the Royal Wedding alongside Bharati has been an invaluable opportunity that I could not have gained elsewhere and for that I am grateful. On the morning of the 19 May, I slept in and watched the royal wedding from my sofa knowing that I played a part in documenting a historic moment in time. With my feet on my sofa and ice cream on hand, I can say I had a great long weekend.

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